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5 Things You Didn't Know About Charles Lindbergh

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Charles Lindbergh was born 109 years ago today. In honor of the famed aviator’s birthday, let’s hop onto five things you might not know about The Lone Eagle.

1. He Was Time’s First Man of the Year

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After Lindbergh made his celebrated transatlantic flight in May 1927, he found his picture splashed on the cover of every newspaper and magazine in the country. Well, almost every magazine. Time made the curious decision not to run with Lindbergh as its cover subject for the next edition, a choice that editors quickly regretted.

By the end of the year, though, the same editors struck on a clever way to rectify their omission and also move some magazines. When faced with a slow news week, they decided to devote an entire issue to Lindbergh’s influential flight. The magazine slapped a portrait of Lindy on its cover and dubbed him “Man of the Year.”

Although the article began a beloved tradition for Time’s readers, it reads a little awkwardly now. The article begins by listing Lindbergh’s height, age, eye color, cheek color (pink, in case you were wondering), and foot size. (“Large. When he arrived at the Embassy in France no shoes big enough were handy.”) The article then lists Lindbergh’s habits: “Smokes not; drinks not. Does not gamble. Eats a thorough-going breakfast. Prefers light luncheon and dinner when permitted. Avoids rich dishes. Likes sweets.” The piece an analysis of his handwriting, which showed “Superiority, intellectualism, cerebration, idealism, even mysticism.”

2. He Helped Invent an Artificial Heart

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Lindbergh gained international renown for his transatlantic flight, but most people aren’t quite as familiar with the contribution he made to medical science. Lindbergh became keenly interested in cardiology when his sister-in-law was fighting against what proved to be fatal mitral stenosis in 1930, and he wondered why it was impossible to surgically fix a damaged heart.

As Lindbergh’s interest in heart surgery grew, he ended up working with Dr. Alexis Carrel at New York’s Rockefeller Institute on a system to keep organs alive outside of the body by circulating nutrient-rich fluids through them. Carrel wasn’t some quack who wanted to capitalize on Lindbergh’s fame, either; at that point in his career the doctor had already won a Nobel Prize for his work on organ transplants.

Lindbergh lent his unique mechanical acumen to his research with Carrel, and the pilot eventually perfected a glass perfusion pump that could maintain a heart in a sterile environment. The breakthrough helped other scientists eventually create the first artificial heart. Lindbergh and Carrel even coauthored the 1938 medical text The Culture of Organs, which included an early description of how an artificial heart would work.

3. He Only Drew a Steady Paycheck Once

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While Lindbergh enjoyed early success as a pilot and became a reserve airman for the Army, a 1974 New York Times profile by Alden Whitman noted that the aviator only held down one “paycheck job” over the course of his life. Lindbergh worked on the side as an aviation instructor and a circus stunt flier for fairs as a young pilot, but the only steady gig he ever held was a post as chief pilot on a mail run between St. Louis and Chicago that he started in 1926.

According to Lindbergh, it was on one of these runs for the Robertson Aircraft Company that he had the epiphany that a nonstop flight from New York to Paris was possible. Upon returning to St. Louis after the run, Lindbergh started scaring up funding for his historic trip. A group of St. Louis businessmen staked him for $15,000, which was part of the reason Lindbergh dubbed his plane The Spirit of St. Louis. The less-exciting working name of the plane had been “the Ryan NYP,” which reflected the plane’s maker (Ryan Airlines) and its objective (New York to Paris).

4. He Became a Big Advocate for Conservation

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Later in his life Lindbergh turned his attention from aviation and cardiology to conservation. The same Whitman article from the Times includes a quote on Lindbergh’s 1964 realization that he should devote his energies to conservation. On a trip to Africa, Lindbergh said, “Lying under an acacia tree with the sounds of the dawn around me. I realized more clearly the facts that man should never overlook: that the construction of an airplane for instance, is simple when compared to the evolutionary achievement of a bird; that airplanes depend on advanced civilization, and that where civilization is most advanced few birds exist. I realized that if I had to choose I would rather have birds than airplanes."

Lindbergh spent the rest of his life vigorously campaigning for various conservationist causes. In 1968 he made his first public speech in 27 years to implore the Alaska Legislature to consider conservation legislation. He made trips to the Philippines to work with President Ferdinand Marcos to establish a sanctuary for the tamaraw, an endangered hoofed mammal.

5. He Had a Secret German Family

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It’s anyone’s guess how one of the world’s most famous people pulled it off – it probably didn’t hurt that Lindbergh was famously camera-shy in his later years – but Lindbergh managed to father an entire secret family in Germany during the 1950s and 1960s.

Lindbergh met hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer while visiting Germany in 1957, and the two began an affair that produced two sons and a daughter. Lindbergh would visit the family several times a year, but the children never knew that their father was the famous aviator. Instead, they thought he was an American writer named Careau Kent.

After his death, though, they found bundles and letters and photographs of Lindbergh and realized they were his children. Their mother confirmed their suspicions but asked that they not reveal their paternity until after her death. When she passed away in 2003 the Hesshaimer children finally told the media about their famous father. DNA tests confirmed their claims.

The story gets even wilder, though. According to the Hesshaimer children, Lindbergh was simultaneously having an affair with their mother’s sister, Marietta. These trysts allegedly produced two more sons, although a 2005 Telegraph story noted that Marietta Hesshaimer’s sons were remaining mum about their paternity out of respect for their mother’s wishes.

If there's someone you'd like to see profiled in a future edition of '5 Things You Didn't Know About...,' leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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